A week ago yesterday The husband and I got back from a 6 day trip to London. We've spent the last week dividing up the loot we brought back, reminiscing and avoiding doing out vacation laundry.
As we traveled and adventured I took notes. Mental and actual written down in my Pac Man moleskin notes. Yes, I took notes on vacation. I have issues. But London is such an overwhelming city that if you don't write some of it down you risk losing it the minute you step into another museum, gallery or historical building. So here we go. Grab a cuppa and read on my intrepid adventurer.
1. Olympics, Jubilees, scaffolding oh my! This year is kind of a big year for London. You have the Queens Diamond Jubilee and the Summer Olympics coming up. Its not completely unusual to see things being worked on in London. The first time I was in London most of the interior of St. Pauls was under renovation. But you really get the impression of "Quick clean up Mom's coming!!!" Now I wasn't bothered by the odd bit of scaffolding, pedestrian detours on sidewalks or having to use an alternative entrance to see the Crown Jewels. But, if that bothers you wait to go after the jubilee and after the Olympics. Otherwise just prepare yourself to work around a bit of construction.
2. Choices, choices, choices. London is a city of Choice. The first time I went to London my dad and I sat down in the hotel bar and made a list on a napkin. What did I have to see, what would be nice to see and what could I live the rest of my life without regret if I didn't see. This is crucial because YOU CAN'T SEE EVERYTHING! You won't see everything no matter how hard you try and you need to accept that immediately. The husband and I made a similar list upon our arrival. In a bar. On a napkin. We hit most of the things on our list. And a lot of stuff that wasn't on our list but we stumbled upon. Keep in mind this even extends to the museums and galleries. We spent 3 hours in the Imperial War Museum and saw exactly 2 floors. But the minute we walked through the door we grabbed a map and eliminated the exhibits we had no interest in. At the British Museum you can grab a guide which lists the Top 10 things to see in the museum which is a great thing to do if you have limited time or you're feeling a little "museumed out" and just want to hit the highlight. One word of advice if you are with someone who insists on reading EVERYTHING *coughmyhusbandcough* be clear with them that you want to see other places and things. I honestly could have left the Imperial War Museum without John and he wouldn't have noticed. Further to that, he would have been perfectly happy spending our entire trip in the British Museum and he easily could have. However, a lot of these places are free so if you don't see it all and want to see more leaving and coming back another time is a great option.
3. Think ahead part 1. You can totally "wing it" in London but if you're interested in saving time and/or money do a little pre-planning. You can buy tickets at the Tower of London for about 20 pounds a pop or you can buy tickets online for a few pounds cheaper and pick them up before you go in. In London saving a few quid here and there tremendous. The weekend before we left we spent some time online buying tickets to events which saved us time when we got there. No standing in lines. No worrying about shows being sold out. No wondering what we were going to do for an evening. Now we can purchase tickets the day of a show, usually for cheaper but you won't be guaranteed the seats will be good or if you're with someone that they will even be together. But they'll be cheap. If you can get them. The line for the half price tickets usually start very early and by the time you get your chance there is a possibility they won't have tickets for what you want. So have a few shows picked out. We bought our tickets to Wicked, The Idiot Bastard Band (a band put together by some of our favourite british comedians) and Cream Tease (a burlesque show/traditional afternoon tea) beforehand. We have great seats for all of them. We did buy our tickets to The 39 Steps the day of and still had great seats which was an amazing feat considering it was a Friday night. There is also the option of getting returned tickets directly from the theatre if you don't mind waiting until the shows started.
4. Think ahead part 2. London seems like a big scary cosmopolis. And it is...kind of. Get yourself a good map that includes a map of the London Underground. Generally these can be obtained for free from your hotel. Also get yourself an oyster card. It's a card you can reload for travel on the underground. Saves time and money so you don't keep having to buy individual tickets. We got around on a combination of the Underground and on foot. A lot of things are very manageable on foot and many things are grouped together. For example, the National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square, is next door to the Portrait Gallery and across the square from The Mall which at the end of it is the Palace which is a short walk from Hype Park. Another example, on my Birthday because I am a total nerd I insisted we go to the British Library. So we headed to the library, walked to Russell Square, then to the British Museum. Take a moment to plan out before you head out. This will save you lots of aimless wandering. But if aimless wandering it your thing disregard that.
5. Don't over do it. Our first morning in London I did something very important. I dragged John to the closest Coffeebucks grabbed coffee and some porridge and we sat in Picadilly circus in the shadow of the Eros statue. I made John take it all in. I wanted to ease him into London because I knew eventually this city would overwhelm us in the most fantastic way. There is so much to see and so much to do and so much to take in its incredibly easy to over do it. We made a real effort to take moments to just sit and breath. One afternoon we took an hour and sat in a theatre and watched a cute theatre show called Horrible Histories. It was an hour, cheap tickets (like 10 pounds cheap) and we could just sit and be entertained and give our brains a little break. And now we know a cute song about keeping all the wives of Henry VIII straight. Take time to decompress when you can or you risk having the biggest blur of your life. It's also a great time to rest your feet. On our last day there we took several hours and enjoyed a traditional british afternoon tea and burlesque show. We had THE BEST time. It was a wonderful way to sit, enjoy, decompress and just be. Oh and there were scones. Yay scones.
6. Postcards are your friends. Here's the thing, many places don't allow photography for a variety of reasons. St. Paul's and Westminster are churches first and tourist attractions second. Therefore as a sign of respect they ask you not take pictures. Same goes for the Crown Jewels and the books at the British Library. At the Imperial War Museum you can take pictures every where except in the Holocaust exhibit again as a sign of respect. Oh and they mean it when they say "no pictures". We saw a tower of London staff member remind a child very sternly about no pictures. Yes, a child. No one is an exception to their rules. So pop over to the gift shop and pick up a 60 pence postcard if you absolutely have to remember what the coronation crown looks like.
7. It's okay a geek out a little bit, it's London. The husband and I are complete nerds sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. London can be a geeky mecca. When I saw the last poem Oscar Wilde wrote whilst in prison my knees went weak. I oooed and ahhhed at Jane Austen's writing desk (and resolved that one day people would be ooooing and ahhhhing at my writing desk.) I came home with a replica of Luna Lovegoods wand. We made sure we bought books at London's OLDEST bookstore and England BIGGEST bookstore. We walked buy the Queens official grocer every morning and we checked out her Cheese Monger as well and asked ourselves, "Is this a cheese shop?" (python joke.) We sought out Ye Olde Cheese Shoppe on Fleet Street which was the first building to reopen after the great fire but also a known haunt of Dickens and where some of the first English dictionary was drafted (by the way it's a pub not an actual cheese shop.) We found the first purpose built office block in Europe and saw the only cross eyed statue. London is a haven of wonderful little geeky, nerdy, strangely odd and curious things. Find them. Seek them out. Enjoy them.
8. Sensible shoes. Wear them. 'Nuff said.
So there you have it. This idiots guide to London. Let the adventuring begin!